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Proposed new Section 55C(4) lists reasons for unsuitability for use of the ordinary route:

I know that the Minister hates lists, but here he has one. He hates them because people add to them, and I am not going to disappoint him here. There are other appropriate reasons why one may need a different route, such as the nesting season. Maybe you do not want people walking through a site then. In Norfolk, for instance, where I come from, nesting sites for terns are cordoned off so that people cannot go through them during that season.

Another reason might be that there is a military live-firing range. I do not know what the proposals are for ranges by the sea. It may be that, when the military is not using them, the coast next to the seashore can be used. And then, of course, there is shooting. What plans does the Minister have to ensure that the public are well informed when alternative routes must be used?

Baroness Hamwee: My noble friend went rather rapidly over the distinction between flooding, the tide and erosion or encroachment. Like him, I had a problem with the term “optional”. I can see that it would be an “option” not to get your feet wet, but is it really a sensible option to fall into the void created by erosion? The clause seems to be dealing with very different circumstances but describing the remedy in the same way, which is not entirely appropriate.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I am grateful to noble Lords for the points they have raised on this interesting part of the Bill. In general, the clause is a useful addition; it provides some flexibility for the circumstances described in this part of the Bill. It is an example of how the Bill seeks to anticipate circumstances that might arise and not then cause a halt to the coastal route, so as a general point this is a sensible proposal.

Noble Lords have raised a number of interesting questions and examples. They question whether the Bill as it is drafted really meets those circumstances, and I will look at these matters between Committee and Report to ensure that I am satisfied that it does. A number of interesting points have been made here.

Amendment A331 would change the wording so that instead of saying that Natural England may provide for an alternative route, it would say that Natural England must, where appropriate, include such a proposal. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, suggested that he might be being somewhat overprescriptive, and I think he is. The important point is that Natural England has the ability to propose alternative routes where it considers that it is appropriate to do so, which is implied by the use of the word “may”.

I realise that if the noble Lord had proposed “must” and not “where appropriate”, my argument against him would be stronger; if that were the case, Natural England would have to consider on every stretch of the route whether an alternative route was appropriate and where it should go. By the use of the phrase “where appropriate” he has qualified the use of the word “must”, but on the other hand I have no reason to think that the use of the word “may” would inhibit Natural England from taking a sensible and proportionate approach to this.

We then have a series of amendments, A333 to A336, the effect of which would be that an alternative route could be provided only when an exclusion or restriction of access under Chapter II of Part I of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 was in force or in an estuary when a ferry was not working. My problem with that is that the amendments would essentially remove Natural England’s ability to specify any other period during which an alternative route may operate and remove the four situations that are listed in the Bill where an optional alternative route might be put in place when a route is unsuitable for use—for instance, for flooding, the action of the tide, coastal erosion or encroachment of the sea or the effect of any other geomorphological process.

The noble Lord posed the question: if an alternative route is prescribed, what are the options for people to use it? That is not how we see it; we see the alternative route being used only when the particular conditions set out in subsection (4)(a) to (d) apply. However, the person exercising their right can also exercise their judgment about whether those conditions apply. I am not suggesting that we are going to have notices up and down the country saying at which moment an alternative route may apply or not. We have to have some flexibility with regard to that.

There are other issues listed in this clause that noble Lords have raised. On the question of the Ministry of Defence, MoD ranges are usually military by-lawed

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land, a category of excepted land, so the route would not go through MoD sites in the first place. The noble Earl then raised the point that they might be using the firing range only at certain times of the year. The MoD might provide permissive access if the ranges are not in use and can be made safe for the public. It is probably best to leave it to the discretion of the MoD rather than use the provisions here. This provides a useful flexibility. I have no reason to believe that Natural England will not use it sensibly. That is why I would like to retain the word “may”. It has been an interesting debate and between now and Report I will look at some of the instances noble Lords have raised to make sure that they are covered by the current wording.

Lord Greaves: Will the Minister consider further the question I raised about the specified period or periods and this extraordinarily convoluted new Section 55C(5) which says what “specified” means. Perhaps he could write and explain this to us. I am not particularly concerned about knowing exactly what it means in a grammatical sense as it seems to mean people specified or appointed in lots of different ways. I am interested to know, however, what kind of things it refers to. I was not trying to take it out but probing what kind of circumstances are in the minds of the people who wrote this legislation, of the Minister, of Natural England or of anybody else who was involved in it. It is not clear and I cannot think of any sensible circumstances, but that may be because I do not understand it. Can the Minister set out some circumstances in which it might be used?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I will do my best. If you look at the wording of new Section 55C—I know it has its moments—the critical part is new subsection (4), which sets out the conditions in which the ordinary route or path might be regarded as unsuitable. There may be circumstances in which the unsuitability relates to a period of time. New Section 55C(3) is needed to allow Natural England to use that specification. That would be my answer to the noble Lord, but I am happy to dig deep to give some examples if we can find them.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful to the Minister. I should also have said that I am grateful to the Minister for saying he would look at the totality of this debate and the points that have been raised. The Minister has now raised the interesting question as to whether new subsection (3) and new subsection (4) may operate together because new subsection (5) refers only to new subsection (3) and not to new subsection (4). That also relates to a question that the Minister may want to look at and write to us about. Why is the wording of new subsection (3) different from the wording of new subsection (4)? New subsection (3) refers to,

I understand that as it goes on to talk about a diversion for particular periods. There would have to be notices and regulations and so on. Then new subsection (4) refers to,

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Again, I do not think the Minister has answered the question whether it will be an option at any time. If it is not supposed to be an option at any time, how will it be policed? There does not seem to be any sense to having rules which say you can come along this path, which may well become a well-trodden and clear path, but you are not supposed to go there if instead you can go along the beach if the tide is not in. If it is an optional path surely it should be an optional path at all times, otherwise it does not make sense. I do not think it can be policed. If it cannot even be informally policed by peer pressure there is no sense in it.

7.15 pm

Earl Cathcart: I thought I was clear on this when the Minister said that interesting points had been raised and that he would take them away for consideration. He then said that the four conditions were flooding, tide, erosion and geomorphological processes. This seemed to suggest that those were the four things. When I spoke earlier I mentioned other things such as alternative paths to avoid nesting sites during specific periods. The Minister mentioned my point about the MoD but I also mentioned shooting. I read or heard somewhere that it was possible to have an alternative site if there was a party of people shooting. I should like clarification on that.

Baroness Hamwee: To add to the Minister’s considerations, I wonder whether this clause could be looked at alongside new Section 55B because new Section 55C covers such a variety of things which we are describing in some cases as optional alternatives but in other cases as replacements, which would come more suitably in new Section 55B rather than in new Section 55C. This may be where some of the confusion and certainly my confusion arises.

Baroness Byford: The way I read it as an amateur from the Back Benches is that new subsection (4) spoke for itself—those were the reasons for there being an alternative route. My noble friend was right to touch on the breeding season but we could be talking about the burning of heather or any other reason. I had assumed that that applied to new subsection (3) and the definition applied to new subsection (4) but if I am not right I should like to have it clarified.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: The substantive part of this clause is new subsection (4), which sets out the circumstances. Noble Lords have raised other circumstances. I thought I had answered the question in relation to MoD land where I said it would be treated as excepted land but the MoD might then decide to open up firing ranges if it was appropriate and safe to do so. Other examples have been given such as the question of nesting. These matters will be dealt with as the plans for the coastal path are developed. That may be a factor in deciding where the route goes in the first place. I have said, however, that I will look at these examples to make sure that we are covered in relation to alternative routes.

I know the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is critical of the wording but I do not see a conflict between new subsections (3), (4) and (5). I am clear that new

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subsection (5) helps to define what is meant by a specified period. New subsection (3) relates to the circumstances under new subsection (4) where it is appropriate that there is a diversion and the diversion may operate at specified periods. On the question of whether the alternative route should always be specified as being available at the same time as the main route, I think that is too inflexible. Surely there has to be flexibility. I can see that there might be circumstances where there would be no problem at all about the alternative route also being used but there might be circumstances where that was not appropriate. I understand that there is also the issue of policing. We need to be pragmatic. This is a sensible provision which we want to work in a flexible way but, as I have said, I will look into this matter and make sure that we are covered for the circumstances noble Lords have raised.

Lord Greaves: I am grateful for those further assurances from the Minister, and I add two points. He is now saying that new subsection (3) qualifies new subsection (4). That is not how I had read or understood them; they refer to different circumstances. New subsection (3) is not a means of qualifying proposed new subsection (4). This needs looking at again.

As the Minister just said, we want something that is understandable and will work. I take the view, perhaps slightly arrogantly, that if I cannot understand it then lots of other people will not be able to understand it. Perhaps I am thicker than most, but I do not usually encounter that. We must get it clear.

Secondly, if new subsections (3) and (4) are separate, why is there different wording? There must be some reason for it. That is at the heart of it. Having said that—and we will have further discussions about this—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A331 withdrawn.

Amendments A332 to A336D not moved.

Amendment A337

Moved by Lord Greaves

A337: Clause 292, page 179, line 31, leave out from beginning to end of line 9 on page 180

Lord Greaves: I also speak to Amendment A341, which is the substantive amendment in this group. I seek to set out a clear and comprehensive consultation process during the preparation of proposal reports, which Natural England is responsible for producing for each section of the coast.

The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, at the beginning of our proceedings this afternoon when he was talking about the importance of local authority involvement, is at the heart of this. It is very important indeed that the schemes are put together in a clear, open, transparent and consultative way, that representations are properly considered in a clear, open and transparent way, and that, as far as possible, the proposals for each section of the coast are made on the basis of consensus, or as much local

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consensus from all interests as possible. My amendment would insert a new Section 55DA into the 1949 Act, which would put a duty on the Secretary of State to issue regulations setting that process out. I have incorporated those proposals that are already in the Bill, to make it clearer, more comprehensive and much more satisfactory—to make it absolutely certain that what needs to be done is done.

The regulations will require Natural England to advertise that they are preparing a coastal access report for a section of coast. They will have to consult with each local authority and national park authority, persons with a relevant interest in the land, each local access forum, the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, the Environment Agency,

important third-party interests—and other persons that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate. Natural England will be under a duty to,

and consultation on this. When it produces its draft report, it will have to advertise its publication, consult the persons listed—as I have already read out—on the draft report and,

It states that Natural England may then amend and modify the report as a result of those representations.

If I have read its reports and draft scheme correctly, this would place in the Bill what Natural England is probably going to do anyway. However, as I have said before, it is such an important thing that it ought to be in the Bill so that it cannot be changed in the future. I beg to move.

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): I have to inform the Committee that, if the amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments A337A to A340 by reason of pre-emption.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: We were intending to discuss the consultation process in the next group. Noting the support that the amendments in this group give to local democracy, I question the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on proposed new subsection (4) and the listing of what “local authority” means. Unitary authorities and metropolitan boroughs also adjacent to the coast should really be listed there. I am not sure whether the grouping as listed covers all local authorities that are likely to be affected, or that want and need consultation.

Lord Greaves: I can answer that before the Minister replies: it does. This is the normal list that appears in local government legislation. Unitary authorities are all either counties or districts, and metropolitan districts are districts, so this covers them all.

Lord Davies of Oldham: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for that clarification. Clause 292 amends Part IV of the National Parks and Access to

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the Countryside Act 1949 to require Natural England to consult with various relevant bodies before drawing up a report, in addition to the persons already included in Section 51(4) of the 1949 Act. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, proposes to remove the current list and replace it with a new list. He has presented his arguments for that.

During the passage of this Bill, the Government have made their views on lists pretty clear. However, in Part 9 of the Bill it is important that we update the list included in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, but that does not mean that we should extend it to include all the organisations which might need to be consulted. We need to retain some degree of flexibility. The noble Lord’s proposal, about which he is quite frank, is to put his list in the Bill. However, we should not be including consultees for definitive maps on rights of way in this legislation. It is entirely different from the 1949 legislation.

Amendment A341 would insert a new section setting out a number of requirements on Natural England at the stage of their consultation during the preparation of their coastal access report. The amendment is too prescriptive and goes too far. The process for consultation in new Section 55D was drawn up to reflect what is already in Section 51 of the 1949 Act, and that places sufficient requirements on Natural England to consult appropriately. Indeed, Natural England’s scheme, published in December 2008 and which we have made available to noble Lords, already builds in such a draft report stage. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, was generous enough to say that he thought that Natural England would probably do what he was prescribing. He is right, but he wants it in the Bill and I am not convinced that that degree of prescription is necessary.

Natural England has already said that it will publish its draft proposals on the internet. It will invite all relevant interests to comment on them. It will allow a 12-week period for people to view the proposals and submit comments on the report. Natural England is fulfilling the spirit of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but his amendment would put in the Bill a prescription that is a step too far because of its rigidity and the limitations that it puts on Natural England, which will work very much along the lines that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, has suggested. I hope, therefore, that he will withdraw his amendment.

7.30 pm

Lord Greaves: I shall certainly do that in a minute. Can the Minister answer a couple of questions? First, which of the organisations listed here does the Minister think should not be consulted? This is not really a list, but a process that involves a list. Secondly, which of the stages in the consultation process that I have put forward does the Minister think should not take place?

Lord Davies of Oldham: The noble Lord presents those questions against a context in which he wants to rewrite this section of the Bill. I understand why he wants to do so. I do not say that his list does not have a large degree of accuracy to it, but the problem with being prescriptive about those terms is that it reduces flexibility. It binds Natural England against what is in

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the Bill in circumstances where we are talking about process. Natural England has given all evidence that it follows exactly the concepts suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, by guaranteeing to consult. We have represented those parts that we must take account of according to the 1949 Act.

The noble Lord will appreciate that the problem with lists is that they are exhaustive today and very far from being exhaustive and complete five years from now. The problem, then, is that this will be in primary legislation. The noble Lord should surely accept that when we discuss an issue of process there has to be some element of flexibility to it. That is why I ask him to think again about how prescriptive this particular part of the Bill should be and to reconsider his amendment.

Lord Greaves: The Minister convinces me that the amendment is right. If he reads the list carefully, he will find that it does not in any way prevent future flexibility; it is specifically written in general and generic terms so that exactly the people who need to be on the list can be put on it in the future. The decision will be the Secretary of State’s. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment A337 withdrawn.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.35 pm.

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